In the 1880s the Kootenay region first opened to the possibility of tourism. The European visitors ran largely to venture capitalist types and big game hunters. These categories were not mutually exclusive. One of the earliest visitors, and an outstanding representative of the above categories, was William Adolph Baillie-Grohman. He soon had a steam launch on the Kootenay River and lake, introducing to the Columbia Basin a whole new concept in transportation.
As Baillie-Grohman's hunting quests took him farther afield he recognized and acted upon new opportunities to exploit this virgin land. Financing a development company in London, England, Mr. Baillie-Grohman arranged for the building of a canal at McGillivray's Portage with which to connect the Columbia and Kootenay river systems. Thus was born Canal Flat and a new and less rigorous way of travelling in the Kootenays.
The push of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 across the northern United States to the Pacific, increased U.S. interest in and access to the Columbia Basin. There was still the glow of acknowledgement, in some financial circles, emanating from the Wild Horse gold excitement of 1863-1865 and located just north of Cranbrook. This was followed by a push of mining exploration, mainly American, up the Columbia River and around the Big Bend country then down the Arrow Lakes. U.S. interests started developing transportation routes to deliver bulk supplies to Canadian mining camps and towns. This quickly led to river paddlewheelers followed by railway routes both proposed and real, probing into the valleys of Kootenay country.
Alert to the threat of American incursion into Canadian trading territory, the Canadian Pacific Railway completed its main line to the pacific in 1885. The C.P.R. line went through Golden, offering easier access to East Kootenay markets. This route was used extensively by European tourists lusting after new fields of natural beauty.
In 1911 the first "infernal" motorized buckboards and land steamers began to buzz around Cranbrook, then Nelson and Trail. They were the forerunners of a transportation development that would change the face of the Columbia Basin.
By the beginning of World War I the owners of automobiles were proposing the need for better roads and more bridges throughout the Columbia Basin. Being mostly members of the moneyed business class they used the Boards of Trade and City councils, and then the B.C. Automobile Association to advance these causes. World War I took the young men from every community in East and West Kootenay, transforming forever those who remained alive to return home.